Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Cancer Puzzle - Siddhartha Mukherjee

Insightful talk by Siddhartha Mukherjee author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

The book ends with an open question...

"In the end, every biography must also confront the death of its subject. Is the end of cancer conceivable in the future? Is it possible to eradicate this disease from our bodies and our societies forever?"

Quote of the Day

The universe is hard enough. The last thing the universe needs is a complex lexicon laid down between the communicator and the listener to confuse them about what it is they’re trying to listen to.

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

Saturday, September 29, 2012

An Arundel Tomb - Read by Philip Larkin

Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love. 

Wisdom Of The Week

According to popular legend, Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize– winning theoretical physicist, scored only a slightly above-average IQ of 125 when he was tested in high school. In his memoirs, however, we find hints of how he rose from modest intelligence to genius, when he talks about his compulsion to tear down important papers and mathematical concepts until he could understand the concepts from the bottom up. It’s possible, in other words, that his amazing intellect was less about a gift from God and more about a dedication to deliberate practice.

From the book
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport. 

Also, check out Anders Ericsson's highly cited paper on deliberate practice

and don't miss this video on Richard Feynman - No Ordinary Genius:

Quote of the Day

Reciprocal causation between mind and brain entails that our brains may well be different from those of our ancestors. It is a matter of use and structure. If people switch from swimming to weight-lifting, the new exercise develops different muscles and the enhanced muscles make them better at the new activity. Everything we know about the brain suggests that it is similar to our muscles. Maguire et al. (2000) found that the brains of the best and most experienced London taxi-drivers had an enlarged hippocampus, which is the brain area used for navigating three-dimensional space. Here we see one area of the brain being developed without comparable development of other areas in response to a specialized cognitive activity. It may well be that when we do "Raven's-type" problems certain centers of our brain are active that used to get little exercise; or it may be that we increase the efficiency of synaptic connections throughout the brain. If we could scan the brains of people in 1900, who can say what differences we would see?

Do huge IQ gains mean we are more intelligent than our ancestors? If the question is "Do we have better brain potential at conception, or were our ancestors too stupid to deal with the concrete world of everyday life," the answer is no. If the question is "Do we live in a time that poses a wider range of cognitive problems than our ancestors encountered, and have we developed new cognitive skills and the kind of brain that can deal with these problems?," the answer is yes. Once we understand what has happened, we can communicate with one another even if some prefer the label "more intelligent" and others prefer "different." To care passionately about which label we use is to surrender to the tyranny of words. I suspect most readers ask the second question, and if so, they can say we are "smarter" than our ancestors. But it would probably be better to say that we are more modern, which is hardly surprising

- Excerpts from Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century, by James R. Flynn

Friday, September 28, 2012

Cancer Patient’s Best Friend

I'm giddy these days since Oscar came into my life. Caring for a pet is a welcome distraction from the day-to-day reality of being a cancer patient. I'm not sure what it is about puppies, but holding Oscar instantly makes me feel better. I've had him for only 13 days, but my new favorite pastime is to watch him sleep, his tiny black paws twitching as he chases rabbits in his puppy dreams. The warmth of his little body and the steady beat of his heart against my chest distract me from my anxiety. He brings me instantly to the present.

In the short time Oscar has been in my life, he's had an effect on my relationships. Rather than staring at my bald head, passers-by stop to play with Oscar and to tell me how cute he is. The other tenants in my building now say hello to my dog before greeting me. And instead of discussing my symptoms and treatment plan for the week, my boyfriend and I have been spending more time focused on puppy playtime, going on long walks in the park and taking Oscar to his obedience classes. It's nice not to be the center of attention for a change.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"When I’m the speaker, I know that special moment [just before speaking] is the only time I will have the entire audience’s full attention. Unless an alien spaceship crash-lands on stage midway through the talk, the silence before I begin is the most powerful moment I have. What defines how well I’ll do starts with how I use the power of that moment."

- Scott Berkun


Thursday, September 27, 2012

What I've Been Reading

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport. Thank you Ben for recommending this brilliant book and he already has a great summary of the 4 rules.
  • Rule #1: Don’t Follow Your Passion. Here I make my argument that “follow your passion” is bad advice. You’ve heard me talk about this on Study Hacks, but in this chapter, I lay out my full-throated, comprehensive, detailed argument against this common advice.
  • Rule #2: Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Here I detail the philosophy that works better than following your passion. This philosophy, which I call career capital theory, says that you first build up rare and valuable skills and then use these skills as leverage to shape you career into something you love. During this chapter I spend time with a professional guitar player, television writer, and venture capitalist, among others, in my quest to understand how people get really good at what they do. You’ll also encounter a detailed discussion of deliberate practice and how to apply it in your working life.
  • Rule #3: Turn Down a Promotion. Here I argue that control is one of the most important things you can bargain for with your rare and valuable skills. I discuss the difficulties people face in trying to move toward more autonomy in their working lives and describe strategies that can help you sidestep these pitfalls. During this chapter, I spend time with a hotshot database developer, an entrepreneurial medical resident, an Ivy League-trained organic farmer, and Derek Sivers, among others, in my attempts to decode control.
  • Rule #4: Think Small, Act Big. In this final rule, I explore how people end up with career-defining missions — often a source of great passion. I argue that you need rare and valuable skills before you can identify a powerful mission. I then spend time with a star Harvard professor, a television host, and a Ruby on Rails guru, all in an effort to identify best practices for cultivating this trait.

Quote of the Day

At first sight, 'suffering' and 'scientific' are not terms that can or should be considered together. When applied to ourselves, 'suffering' refers to the subjective experience of unpleasant emotions such as fear, pain and frustration that are private and known only to the person experiencing them. To use the term in relation to non-human animals, therefore, is to make the assumption that they too have subjective experiences that are private to them and therefore unknowable by us. 'Scientific' on the other hand, means the acquisition of knowledge through the testing of hypotheses using publicly observable events. The problem is that we know so little about human consciousness that we do not know what publicly observable events to look for in ourselves, let alone other species, to ascertain whether they are subjectively experiencing anything like our suffering. The scientific study of animal suffering would, therefore, seem to rest on an inherent contradiction: it requires the testing of the untestable.

Marian S. Dawkins

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Debunking Handbook - A Guide To Debunking Misinformation

John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky have done a great service to humanity (ok, that was a stretch) by writing this short handbook - download it for free HERE !!

"It’s not just what people think that matters, but how they think."

Debunking myths is problematic. Unless great care is taken, any effort to debunk misinformation can inadvertently reinforce the very myths one seeks to correct. To avoid these “backfire effects”, an effective debunking requires three major elements:

  • First, the refutation must focus on core facts rather than the myth to avoid the misinformation becoming more familiar.
  • Second, any mention of a myth should be preceded by explicit warnings to notify the reader that the upcoming information is false. 
  • Finally, the refutation should include an alternative explanation that accounts for important qualities in the original misinformation.

Ten Conservative Principles - Russell Kirk

Essay adapted from adapted from the book The Politics of Prudence by Russel Kirk. Sadly, none of the ten principles are adhered in the current political climate...

The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.

  • The conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.
  • The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.
  • Conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.
  • Conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.
  • Conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. 
  • Conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.
  • Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.
  • Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.
  • The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
  • Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. 

Quote of the Day

In her recent book Why Animals Matter: Animal consciousness, animal welfare, and human well-being, Marian Stamp Dawkins at the University of Oxford claims we still don't really know if other animals are conscious and that we should "remain skeptical and agnostic... Militantly agnostic if necessary."

Dawkins inexplicably ignores the data that those at the meeting used to formulate their declaration, and goes so far as to claim that it is actually harmful to animals to base welfare decisions on their being conscious.
I consider this irresponsible. Those who choose to harm animals can easily use Dawkins's position to justify their actions. Perhaps given the conclusions of the Cambridge gathering, what I call "Dawkins's Dangerous Idea" will finally be shelved. I don't see how anyone who keeps abreast of the literature on animal pain, sentience and consciousness - and has worked closely with any of a wide array of animals - could remain sceptical and agnostic about whether they are conscious.

- Marc Bekoff

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Psychopathic Traits - What Successful Presidents Have in Common?

The study, which was based on presidential performance ratings and personality assessments by hundreds of historians and biographers in several different surveys, found that one psychopathic characteristic in particular was linked to success in presidency: fearless dominance.

“An easy way to think about it is as a combination of physical and social fearlessness,” says Scott Lilienfeld, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at Emory University. “People high in boldness don’t have a lot of apprehension about either physical or social things that would scare the rest of us.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Consider predictive policing—an area that Mr. Steiner doesn't discuss but one that captures just how tricky the politics of algorithms could get. Police departments across America are rapidly embracing software that, by drawing on past crime data, suggests where and when crimes might happen next. It all sounds fine in theory—but will it open the door to even more racial profiling? Police could blame their algorithms and say: "My algorithm told me to arrest this man!" Some legal scholars already seriously entertain this possibility. Private companies, moreover, might eventually step in with proprietary algorithms. Do we want our legal system to run on opaque code?

- Review of Christopher Steiner's new book Automate This: How Algorithms Came To Rule Our World

Monday, September 24, 2012

Quote of the Day

My colleagues and I have conducted interventions with adolescents in which they learn that their brains and intellect are malleable. They discover that when they stretch themselves to learn new things, their neurons form new connections and they can, over time, enhance their intellectual skills. Compared to a control group that learned only study skills, these students showed marked improvements in motivation, and their declining grades were sharply reversed. Researchers Catherine Good and Joshua Aronson have found similar effects. In studies led by David Yeager, high school students who were taught a malleable view of their intellectual and social skills showed positive changes in their grades, stress level, conduct (including aggression), and health that lasted over the course of the school year.

Stretching yourself to learn new things

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Automate This: How Algorithms Came To Rule Our World by Christopher Steiner. Christopher does a splendid job covering huge area in a well written and precise book. A must read if you like know the AI ubiquity (leave alone what's coming). 

Wouldn’t you like to have a doctor who will:   
  • Always be convenient and available. 
  • Know all of your strengths and weaknesses. 
  • Know every single risk factor your past conditions might signal. 
  • Know your complete medical history. 
  • Know the medical history of the last three generations of your family. 
  • Never make a careless mistake or write an incorrect prescription. 
  • Always be up to date on every new treatment and medical discovery. 
  • Never fall into bad habits or ruts. 
  • Know by heart each one of your baseline measurements: pulse, cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, lung capacity, bone density, and past injuries. 
  • Monitor you at all times. Always be searching for the hint of a problem, be it a heart tick, a creeping blood pressure increase, a cholesterol surge, or even trace changes in the air you expel, which could indicate early-stage cancer. 
There exists no human doctor who can do these things. An algorithm can and will do all of them.

Eventually, we won’t need the average doctor, Algorithms, will provide much better and cheaper care for 90 to 99 percent of our medical needs."
Vinod Khosla

If you like to get started on basics of algorithm, AI et al., then take the free online classes @ Udacity and Coursera

Quote of the Day

"If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change."

- Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Wisdom Of The Week

Political consulting is often thought of as an offshoot of the advertising industry, but closer to the truth is that the advertising industry began as a form of political consulting. As the political scientist Stanley Kelley once explained, when modern advertising began, the big clients were just as interested in advancing a political agenda as a commercial one. Monopolies like Standard Oil and DuPont looked bad: they looked greedy and ruthless and, in the case of DuPont, which made munitions, sinister. They therefore hired advertising firms to sell the public on the idea of the large corporation, and, not incidentally, to advance pro-business legislation. It’s this kind of thing that Sinclair was talking about when he said that American history was a battle between business and democracy, and, “So far,” he wrote, “Big Business has won every skirmish.”

- Jill Lepore on How Politics Became a Business

Quote of the Day

Elephants, dolphins, and chimpanzees all have complex social behaviours that we only partly understand. Since it is so rare for humans to observe a natural death in the wild, most of the information that we do have comes from non-experimental case studies thanks to quick-thinking researchers. Even still, the available evidence offers an important reminder that humans are not the only animals who respond to death in a particular way. And the list of non-human animals that seem to do so keeps expanding: recent reports suggest that giraffes and western scrub jays may mourn as well, each with their own customs.

Death rituals in the animal kingdom

Friday, September 21, 2012

Taleb On Robert Rubin

Nassim Nicholas Taleb doesn’t know Rubin personally. He admits that his antipathy, like that of so many Rubin critics, is fueled by symbolism. “He represents everything that’s bad in America,” he says. “The evil in one person represented. When we write the history, he will be seen as the John Gotti of our era. He’s the Teflon Don of Wall Street.” Taleb wants systemic change to prevent what he terms the “Bob Rubin Problem”—the commingling of Wall Street interests and the public trust—“so people like him don’t exist.”

People like Rubin—brilliant, powerful, and fueled by certainty—will always exist. They’ll act selfishly and selflessly. They’ll advance whole societies and their own interests, and their paradoxes will be endlessly debated. “This is a guy who is as controlled as any human being I know,” says Sandy Lewis, who as an arbitrageur worked with Rubin at Goldman Sachs. “He’s pleasant company. He’s compulsively dishonest in a certain way, and compulsively honest in other ways.” Nobody’s perfect. But for $126 million, they ought to show up.

- Rethinking Robert Rubin

The "New" Who's Next In Line For A Kidney Transplant?

Right now, kidneys are given out mostly on a kind of first-come, first-served basis — those who have been waiting the longest tend to get first dibs whenever a kidney becomes available. But that can create problems, Friedewald says.

"We don't want to necessarily give a kidney that may last 40 years to someone who is expected to live five more years. We think we can match people in a better way to maximize the outcome from each kidney," Friedewald says.

So UNOS is proposing several significant changes. One of the big ones is this: The 20 percent of kidneys that would be expected to last the longest would go to the 20 percent of recipients expected to get the most years out of each organ.

"This has several benefits," Friedewald says. "Number one is we realize many more life years lived with each kidney transplant. As those people can live longer and longer with those transplants. But also and probably more importantly we decrease the number of people who then have a kidney fail while they are still alive and need to return to the wait-list."

That, Friedewald says, would make the kidneys that are available for transplantation end up saving a lot more lives.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

Physics is like climbing a mountain: roped together by a common asceticism of mathematical method, the upward direction, through blizzard, mist, or searing sun, is always certain, though the paths are  not. . . . The disorder is on the ledges, never in the direction. . . .

Psychology is less like a mountain than a huge entangled forest in full shining summer, so easy to walk through on certain levels, that anyone can and everyone does. The student’s problem is a frantic one: he must shift for himself. It is directions he is looking for, not height. . . . Multitudes cross each other’s paths in opposite directions with generous confidence and happy chaos. The bright past and the dark present ring with diverging cries and discrepant echoes of “here is the way!” from one vale to another.

- Princeton University psychologist Julian Jaynes

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What I've Been Reading

Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Since the book intensely focuses on linguistics, one get a feeling of reading a college text book but yet it's an easy read. Author's pretty much decipher metaphors from every sentence we use under the sun.

  • Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.
  • The concept is metaphorically structured, the activity is metaphorically structured, and, consequently, the language is metaphorically structured.
  • The most important claim we have made so far is that metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words. We shall argue that, on the contrary, human thought processes are largely metaphorical.

All I could think of was how Hitchens used to decimate the mother of all metaphors: "I don't have a body. I am a body."

Quote of the Day

“The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

ENCODE - Rough Guide To Human Genome

A massive international project called ENCODE – the Encyclopedia Of DNA Elements – has moved us from “Here’s the genome” towards “Here’s what the genome does”. Over the last 10 years, an international team of 442 scientists have assailed 147 different types of cells with 24 types of experiments. Their goal: catalogue every letter (nucleotide) within the genome that does something. The results are published today in 30 papers across three different journals, and more.

For years, we’ve known that only 1.5 percent of the genome actually contains instructions for making proteins, the molecular workhorses of our cells. But ENCODE has shown that the rest of the genome – the non-coding majority – is still rife with “functional elements”. That is, it’s doing something.

It contains docking sites where proteins can stick and switch genes on or off. Or it is read and ‘transcribed’ into molecules of RNA. Or it controls whether nearby genes are transcribed (promoters; more than 70,000 of these). Or it influences the activity of other genes, sometimes across great distances (enhancers; more than 400,000 of these). Or it affects how DNA is folded and packaged. Something.

According to ENCODE’s analysis, 80 percent of the genome has a “biochemical function”. More on exactly what this means later, but the key point is: It’s not “junk”. Scientists have long recognised that some non-coding DNA has a function, and more and more solid examples have come to light [edited for clarity - Ed]. But, many maintained that much of these sequences were, indeed, junk. ENCODE says otherwise. “Almost every nucleotide is associated with a function of some sort or another, and we now know where they are, what binds to them, what their associations are, and more,” says Tom Gingeras, one of the study’s many senior scientists.

Think of the human genome as a city. The basic layout, tallest buildings and most famous sights are visible from a distance. That’s where we got to in 2001. Now, we’ve zoomed in. We can see the players that make the city tick: the cleaners and security guards who maintain the buildings, the sewers and power lines connecting distant parts, the police and politicians who oversee the rest. That’s where we are now: a comprehensive 3-D portrait of a dynamic, changing entity, rather than a static, 2-D map.

And just as London is not New York, different types of cells rely on different DNA elements. For example, of the roughly 3 million locations where proteins stick to DNA, just 3,700 are commonly used in every cell examined. Liver cells, skin cells, neurons, embryonic stem cells… all of them use different suites of switches to control their lives. Again, we knew this would be so. Again, it’s the scale and the comprehensiveness that matter.

It’s easy to get carried away, and ENCODE’s scientists seem wary of the hype-and-backlash cycle that befell the Human Genome Project. Much was promised at its unveiling, by both the media and the scientists involved, including medical breakthroughs and a clearer understanding of our humanity. The ENCODE team is being more cautious. “This idea that it will lead to new treatments for cancer or provide answers that were previously unknown is at least partially true,” says Gingeras, “but the degree to which it will successfully address those issues is unknown.

“We are the most complex things we know about. It’s not surprising that the manual is huge,” says Birney. “I think it’s going to take this century to fill in all the details. That full reconciliation is going to be this century’s science.”

- More Here from Ed Young

Quote of the Day

"Men of learning are those who have read the contents of books. Thinkers, geniuses, and those who have enlightened the world and furthered the race of men, are those who have made direct use of the book of the world."

- Arthur Schopenhauer

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Nation of Takers - America's Entitlement Epidemic

An essay stating the very obvious (sans any remedy) adapted from the new book A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic by Nicholas Eberstadt.

In current political discourse, it is common to think of the Democrats as the party of entitlements—but long-term trends seem to tell a somewhat different tale. From a purely statistical standpoint, the growth of entitlement spending over the past half century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Between 1960 and 2010, to be sure, the growth of entitlement spending was exponential—but in any given calendar year, it was on the whole roughly 8 percent higher if the president happened to be a Republican rather than a Democrat. This is in keeping with the basic facts of the time: notwithstanding the criticisms of “big government” that emanated from their Oval Offices from time to time, the Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George W. Bush administrations presided over especially lavish expansions of the American entitlement state. Irrespective of the reputations and the rhetoric of the Democratic and Republican parties today, the empirical correspondence between Republican presidencies and turbocharged entitlement expenditures should underscore the unsettling truth that both political parties have, on the whole, been working together in an often unspoken consensus to fuel the explosion of entitlement spending in modern America.

The prospect of careening along an unsustainable economic road is deeply disturbing. But another possibility is even more frightening—namely, that the present course may in fact be sustainable for far longer than most people today might imagine.

Quote of the Day

The pedophile is often imagined as the dishevelled old man baldly offering candy to preschoolers. But the truth is that most of the time we have no clue what we are dealing with. A fellow-teacher at Mr. Clay’s school, whose son was one of those who complained of being fondled, went directly to Clay after she heard the allegations. “I didn’t do anything to those little boys,” Clay responded. “I’m innocent. . . . Would you and your husband stand beside me if it goes to court?” Of course, they said. People didn’t believe that Clay was a pedophile because people liked Clay—without realizing that Clay was in the business of being likable.

- Malcolm Gladwell on How child molesters get away with it

Monday, September 17, 2012

Wisdom of Tyler Cowen

This is my top reason for respecting Cowen leave alone the intellectual tour-de force that he is. We need to expose the cognitive dissonance of liberals who on one hand support animal rights and "long" to end world poverty; on the other hand don't give a hoot about GMO science. They prefer to live in their own la la land and probably would be happy to toast fund raisers for eternity pretending to solve some of the most profound problems of our times. It's about time they stop talking about Buddha and start spreading the wisdom of Norman Borlaug. 

I would in fact be more supportive of the GMO labeling idea if renowned food writers such as Bittman, and many others including left-wing economists, would come out and boldly proclaim the science about GMOs to their readers.  Too often the tendency is to use a “I’ll try not to say anything literally incorrect, while insinuating there are big problems” method of scoring points against big agriculture.  (Another common trope is to switch the discussion to “distribution” and to suggest, either explicitly or implicitly, that a net benefit technology such as GMOs is somehow unnecessary or undesirable; dare I utter the words “mood affiliation“?)  GMO labeling is the one issue which has gained legal traction, so critics of “Big Ag” just can’t bring themselves to give it up.

Overuse of antibiotics and animal treatment (both cruelty and environmental issues) — now those are two very real problems, backed by overwhelming scientific evidence.  The fact that the California referendum is instead about GMOs — which have overwhelming scientific evidence for net benefit and minimal risks — is the real scandal.

It’s time that our most renowned food writers woke up to that difference.  In the meantime, they are doing both us and themselves a deep disservice.

The Knockoff Economy - How Imitation Sparks Innovation

Excerpts from The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation by Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman:

In a fascinating paper, legal scholar Jonathan Barnett explored the ways in which, in the fashion industry, brand owners benefited even when knockoff artists not only took  their designs but also counterfeited their brands. Barnett argued that the presence of counterfeits may actually help brand owners by signaling to high-end consumers the desirability of the original item as part of an emerging fashion trend. Because the counterfeit copies are most often of lower quality, consumers usually can tell they’re not the real thing. At the same time, Barnett argues, their presence on the streets signals that the dress, handbag, or shoes they are aping are especially desirable. Counterfeits communicate the fact that even those who can’t afford to have the real thing still want it. That’s a free ad for the branded product.

Other studies support the power of copies as a form of advertising. A two-and-one-half year study by Renee Gosline of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  looked at people who purchase counterfeit luxury items, like handbags and sunglasses, and found that counterfeits do not hurt the sales of luxury brands so long as consumers can distinguish between them. Indeed, Gosline found that counterfeits are often used as “trial versions” of the high-end genuine branded item, with over 40% of counterfeit handbag consumers ultimately purchasing the real brand.

Gosline’s study suggests that fake luxury goods are a very effective form of advertising: people who buy them and live with them have a significant probability of being converted to the brand and buying the real thing once they can afford to do so. Copies, in short, are a kind of “gateway drug” that leads to consumption of the harder (or at least, more expensive) stuff. What’s more, every time consumers go out with their fake item, they’re publicly displaying the desirability of the brand, sparking trend-driven consumption that spills over—or up—to the original version.

Quote of the Day

“It behooves us to avoid archaisms. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.”

- William Safire

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reaping The Benefits - Science & The Sustainable Intensification Of Global Agriculture

The Royal Society has published the report of a landmark study examining the contribution of the biological sciences to food crop production.  The study was conducted by a working group chaired by Sir David Baulcombe FRS. The group included experts on agriculture, international development, conservation biology and plant science.

The report begins by setting out the challenges to food crop production. It then goes on to examine in detail the various technologies that might be used to enhance production, with the conclusion that a diversity of approaches are needed. Due to the scale of the challenge, no technology should be ruled out, and different strategies may need to be employed in different regions and circumstances. Finally, consideration is given to the consequences and complications of food crop innovation.

The recommendations of the report include the following:

  • Research Councils UK (RCUK) should develop a cross-council grand challenge' on global food crop security as a priority. This needs to secure at least £2 billion over 10 years to make a substantial difference.
  • RCUK should increase support for ecosystem-based approaches, agronomy and the related sciences that underpin improved crop and soil management.
  • Universities should work with funding bodies to reverse the decline in subjects relevant to a sustainable intensification of food crop production, such as agronomy, plant physiology, pathology and general botany, soil science, environmental microbiology, weed science and entomology.

- Read the full report

Quote of the Day

"Teach a man a fact, and he’s smart for a day. Teach a man to reason, and he’s a pain in the ass to his social betters for the rest of his life."

- Well, google it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

It's Hard To Wake Up Someone Who Is Pretending To Be Asleep...

Dear Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Jews,

You’re living in the age of the Internet. Your religion will be mocked, and the mockery will find its way to you. Get over it.

- Lets give William Saletan some credit for trying.

Wisdom Of The Week

In an attempt to make pain assessment more scientific, geneticist Jeffrey Mogil at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and his colleagues developed the "mouse grimace scale," which was published in Nature Methods in May 2010.

The scale relies on the scoring of five "action units"--such as narrowing of the eyes and bulging of the cheeks--between zero (not present) and two (obviously present), with the combined score indicating total pain. The scale rapidly caught on among veterinarians to assess post-operative pain. "I'm surprised how quickly it was adopted as a practical thing to use in real-time for animal care," says Mogil.

Matthew Leach, who researches animal welfare at Newcastle University, UK, and led the work in rabbits, has been working on facial expressions of pain in various animals since the original mouse grimace scale came out. "The only way you can alleviate pain is to be able to identify it, and to understand how much pain an animal is in," he says. "There is a broad interest in grimace scales," he notes, adding that compared with traditional models, "I would argue it's potentially better and faster in many circumstances."

Leach's rabbit grimace scale, published September 7 in PLoS One was prompted by the Swedish government, which wanted a way to assess how painful ear tattooing--a procedure commonly used to identify animals used in agriculture and breeding shows--is for rabbits.

"I think the grimace scales have made a difference," says Hawkins. "I think they've given people a real wake-up call regarding their ability to detect pain in animals."

- Rabbits Show their Pain

Quote of the Day

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, September 14, 2012

Brains In A Dish Need Sleep Too?

Swiss neuroscientists Valerie Hinard and colleagues cultured mouse cortical neurons in dishes equipped with arrays of electrodes. This allowed them to record the electrical activity produced by the growing 'brain'. They also measured the expression of different genes in the neurons, and compared these to gene expression in real mouse brains.

Finally - and this might end up being the most important bit - the authors compared the biochemistry of the 'sleep deprived' dishes to the 'well rested' ones. They found remarkably few major changes, but they did observe a significant increase in the levels of lysolipids.

Lysolipids are breakdown products of phospholipids, which make up the membranes of all living cells. When present in membranes, lysolipids can act as 'detergents', distorting their structure. That's bad. These results suggest that sleep might serve to prevent the build up of lysolipids. If that pans out, it would mean that the function of sleep is very primitive, a fundamental biological necessity for any connected network of neurons, even what amounts to a random medley thrown together on a plate.

- More Here

Quote of the Day

“When you feel the impossibility of really thinking about the ten thousand year horizon, you’ve got to access that part in each of us which knows that the rational calculation is not the only reason we do things.  We celebrate doing things that are plainly irrational—loving our children, loving our country, loving our planet—even though we’ll never see any of those things come to the perfection we imagine.”

- Larry Lessig

Thursday, September 13, 2012

All Our Memories Are Reconstructed Memories - Scott Fraser

"All our memories are reconstructed memories. They are the product of what we originally experienced and everything that's happened afterwards.”


The "Holy Grail" of Math May Have Been Found

The so-called "holy grail" of mathematics may have just been found. Shinichi Mochizuki, a professor at the Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences at Kyoto University, released a 500-page proof of the abc conjecture in number theory which involves the relationship between prime numbers, which I will attempt to describe as succinctly as possible below.

What exactly is the abc conjecture?
The ABC conjecture involves abc-triples: positive integers a,b,c such that a+b=c, a < b < c, a,b,c have no common divisors and c > rad(abc), the so-called radical of abc.* The ABC conjecture says that there are only finitely many a,b,c such that log(c)/log(rad(abc)) > h for any real h > 1. The ABC conjecture is currently one of the greatest open problems in mathematics. If it is proven to be true, a lot of other open problems can be answered directly from it.

- More Here

Mike Lewis Profiles Obama

“I want to play that game again,” I said. “Assume that in 30 minutes you will stop being president. I will take your place. Prepare me. Teach me how to be president.” This was the third time I’d put the question to him, in one form or another.

This time he covered a lot more ground and was willing to talk about the mundane details of presidential existence. “You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” The self-discipline he believes is required to do the job well comes at a high price. “You can’t wander around,” he said. “It’s much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. You don’t bump into a friend in a restaurant you haven’t seen in years. The loss of anonymity and the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.”

- More Here

Quote of the Day

“The major challenge for neuroscience is to conceptualize massive amounts of data into a framework that can be put into the language of computation. It had been a mystery how these different cell types achieve that.”

Simple Mathematical Computations Underlie Brain Circuits

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Three Pillars of Real-World Wisdom

Avoid Assumptions

"Too often we do things for people that we would like but they might not. What's important to us might not be what's most important to those we're trying to help. I've learned to simply ask, 'How can I be of help to you?'" —Regina Brett, author of Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible

Take Risks

"It is not logic that assists one in moving toward the yearnings of the heart, but faith and courage. In pursuing one's dreams, applying logic is often illogical." —Bronnie Ware, author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing

Cultivate Character
"The widespread belief among politicians and pundits is that high test scores are everything. I strongly disagree. What matters most is character. Working hard, treating others with respect and honesty—those are the keys to success." — Hal Urban, author of Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Matter

- More Here

Quote of the Day

I miss his perfect voice. I heard it day and night, night and day. I miss the first happy trills when he woke; the low octaves of “his morning voice” as he read me snippets from the newspaper that outraged or amused him; the delighted and irritated (mostly irritated) registers as I interrupted him while he read; the jazz-tone riffs of him “talking down the line” to a radio station from the kitchen phone as he cooked lunch; his chirping, high-note greeting when our daughter came home from school; and his last soothing, pianissimo chatterings on retiring late at night.

I miss, as his readers must, his writer’s voice, his voice on the page. I miss the unpublished Hitch: the countless notes he left for me in the entryway, on my pillow, the emails he would send while we sat in different rooms in our apartment or in our place in California and the emails he sent when he was on the road. And I miss his handwritten communiqu├ęs: his innumerable letters and postcards (we date back to the time of the epistle) and his faxes, the thrill of receiving Christopher’s instant dispatches as he checked-in from a dicey spot on some other continent.

- Carol Blue’s afterword to Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Welcome to 2035…the Age of Surprise

Produced by the U.S. Air Force Center for Strategy and Technology at The Air University, the video was based on Blue Horizons, a multi-year future study being conducted for the Air Force Chief of Staff, a “meta-strategy for the age of surprise.”

“We can predict broad outlines, but we don’t know the ramifications,” the video says. “Information travels everywhere; anyone can access everything — the collective intelligence of humanity drives innovation in every direction while enabling new threats from super-empowered individuals with new domains, interconnecting faster than ever before. Unlimited combinations create unforeseen consequences.”

- More Here

What I've Been Reading

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens. Of all those infinite bits of wisdom one can learn from Christopher, the most important lesson I learnt was how to value your friends and family.
"How good it is to be us?" - I hope someday I can say those words too.
  • Almost all men get cancer of the prostate if they live long enough: It’s an undignified thing but quite evenly distributed among saints and sinners, believers and unbelievers. If you maintain that god awards the appropriate cancers, you must also account for the numbers of infants who contract leukemia. Devout persons have died young and in pain. Betrand Russell and Voltaire, by contrast, remained spry until the end, as many psychopathic criminals and tyrants have also done. These visitations, then, seem awfully random. My so far uncancerous throat, let me rush to assure my Christian correspondent above, is not at all the only organ with which I have blasphemed. And even if my voice goes before I do, I shall continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it’s hello darkness my old friend. In which case, why not cancer of the brain? As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be “me.” (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)
  • Still and all, this is both an exhilarating and a melancholy time to have a cancer like mine. Exhilarating, because my calm and scholarly oncologist, Dr. Frederick Smith, can design a chemo-cocktail that has already shrunk some of my secondary tumors, and can “tweak” said cocktail to minimize certain nasty side effects. That wouldn’t have been possible when Updike was writing his book or when Nixon was proclaiming his “war.” But melancholy, too, because new peaks of medicine are rising and new treatments beginning to be glimpsed, and they have probably come too late for me.
  • “Until you have done something for humanity,” wrote the great American educator Horace Mann, “you should be ashamed to die.” I would have happily offered myself as an experimental subject for new drugs or new surgeries, partly of course in the hope that they might salvage me, but also on the Mann principle.
  • To a great degree, in public and private, I “was” my voice. All the rituals and etiquette of conversation, from clearing the throat in preparation for the telling of an extremely long and taxing joke to (in younger days) trying to make my proposals more persuasive as I sank the tone by a strategic octave of shame, were innate and essential to me. I have never been able to sing, but I could once recite poetry and quote prose and was sometimes even asked to do so. And timing is everything: the exquisite moment when one can break in and cap a story, or turn a line for a laugh, or ridicule an opponent. I lived for moments like that.
  • A good conversation is the only human equivalent: the realizing that decent points are being made and understood, that irony is in play, and elaboration, and that a dull or obvious remark would be almost physically hurtful. This is how philosophy evolved in the symposium, before philosophy was written down. And poetry began with the voice as its only player and the ear as its only recorder.
  • Only two things rescued me from betraying myself and letting go: a wife who would not hear of me talking in this boring and useless way, and various friends who also spoke freely. 
  • I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true.
  • Only OK if I say something objective and stoical: Ian remarking that a time might come when I’d have to let go: Carol asking about Rebecca’s wedding “Are you afraid you won’t see England again?” Also, ordinary expressions like “expiration date”… will I outlive my Amex? My driver’s license? People say— I’m in town on Friday: will you be around? WHAT A QUESTION!
  • REMEMBER, YOU TOO ARE MORTAL”— HIT ME AT THE top of my form and just as things were beginning to plateau. My two assets my pen and my voice— and it had to be the esophagus. All along, while burning the candle at both ends, I’d been “straying into the arena of the unwell” and now “a vulgar little tumor” was evident. This alien can’t want anything; if it kills me it dies but it seems very single-minded and set in its purpose. No real irony here, though. Must take absolute care not to be self-pitying or self-centered. Always prided myself on my reasoning faculty and my stoic materialism. I don’t have a body, I am a body. Yet consciously and regularly acted as if this was not true, or as if an exception would be made in my case. Feeling husky and tired on tour? See the doctor when it’s over! Lost fourteen pounds without trying. Thin at last. But don’t feel lighter because walking to the fridge is like a forced march. Then again, the vicious psoriasis/ excema pustules that no doctor could treat have gone, too. This must be some impressive toxin I’m taking. And a mercy for sleep purposes… but all the sleep-aids and blissful dozes seem somehow a waste of life— there’s plenty of future time in which to be unconscious.

Quote of the Day

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

- Solzhenitsyn

Monday, September 10, 2012

Quote of the Day

Giving the public what the public supposedly wants is like asking your kids what they want for dinner and they say, “Oh, we want fries.”

- Francis Ford Coppola

Sunday, September 9, 2012

If It Be Your Will - Leonard Cohen

If it be your will 
That I speak no more 
And my voice be still 
As it was before 
I will speak no more 
I shall abide until 
I am spoken for 
If it be your will 
If it be your will 
That a voice be true 
From this broken hill 
I will sing to you 
From this broken hill 
All your praises they shall ring 
If it be your will 
To let me sing 
From this broken hill 
All your praises they shall ring 
If it be your will 
To let me sing 

If it be your will 

If there is a choice 
Let the rivers fill 
Let the hills rejoice 
Let your mercy spill 
On all these burning hearts in hell 
If it be your will 
To make us well 

And draw us near 

And bind us tight 
All your children here 
In their rags of light 
In our rags of light 
All dressed to kill 
And end this night 
If it be your will 

If it be your will.

What I've Been Reading

Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird by Tim Brikhead. I picked up this book to learn a thing or two about biomimicry but ended up learning much more than that. It's so sad how little we know about our little winged friends. 

Bird Sense is about how birds perceive the world. It is based on a lifetime of ornithological research and a conviction that we have consistently underestimated what goes on in a bird’s head. We already know quite a lot, and we are poised to make more discoveries. This is the story of how we got to where we are, and what the future holds.

  • Seeing: However good we (arrogantly) think our colour vision is, compared with that of birds it is rather poor because they have four single-cone types: red, green, blue and ultraviolet (UV). Not only do birds have more types of cone than ourselves, they have more of them. What’s more, birds’ cone cells contain a coloured oil droplet, which may allow them to distinguish even more colors.
  • Hearing: Birds are different in that their hair cells are replaced. Birds also seem to be more tolerant of damage created by loud sounds than we are. This is currently an area of intense research, for if we can establish the mechanisms by which birds replace their hair cells, a cure for human deafness might be found. So far the prize is elusive but in their quest researchers have discovered a great deal about hearing, including its genetic basis. Many birds’ songs, however, contain elements occurring at much shorter intervals than this and there is increasing evidence that birds are able to detect such differences. Indeed, this is the one aspect of hearing in which birds are much better than humans. It is as if they have the auditory equivalent of a slow-motion option in their brain, allowing them to hear details that are completely lost on us.
  • Touch: We simply do not have the sensory (or mechanical) apparatus to do the same, which is why we would fail the muesli and gravel test. Ducks do, of course, use their eyes when they forage but in a different way – for example, when they take a piece of bread out of your child’s hand; but as the bread is grasped, its texture is detected by the bill-tip organ, and then, if it tastes okay, it is swallowed.
  • Taste: We now know that the chicken has 300 and, from Berkhoudt’s work, that the mallard has about 400; Japanese quail have just 60 and the African grey parrot has at least 300– 400. But apart from these few species, we still have remarkably little information on the total number of taste buds possessed by birds. These studies confirmed that, despite their relatively small number of taste buds, birds respond to the same taste categories – salt, sour, bitter and sweet – as we do.
  • Smell: Two nocturnal species, the kiwi and the kakapo, had the highest number of olfactory genes, 600 and 667 respectively, while the canary and blue tit, as expected on the basis of their relatively small olfactory bulb, had many fewer genes (166 and 218 respectively). There was one anomaly, however: the species with the greatest olfactory bulb size, the snow petrel, had only 212 olfactory genes. It is just possible that a 3-D scan might reveal this species’ bulb to be not as large as Bang and Cobb suggest, or possibly the snow petrel, which is diurnal, may be sensitive only to a limited range of odours and therefore require fewer genes.
  • Magnetic Sense: Remarkably, birds also possess a magnetic map that allows them to identify their location – like a GPS system, but, rather than using satellite signals, birds use the earth’s magnetic field. 13 Migratory birds are not unique in this respect: a magnetic sense has been detected in non-migratory birds like the chicken, as well as in mammals and butterflies, presumably to help them navigate over more modest distances.
  • Emotions: Resolute, on Cornwallis Island in Canada’s Nunavut, is one of the most remote settlements in the world. My arrival in mid-June coincides with the spring thaw and on that first day I notice a pair of brent geese by a frozen pool: black silhouettes against an icy background, waiting for the snow to melt and the opportunity to breed. The next day I drive past the frozen pool again, but am saddened to see that one of the geese has been shot. Beside its lifeless form stands the bird’s partner. A week later I pass the same pond again, and the two birds, one live and one dead, are still there. I left Resolute that day so I’m afraid I don’t know how long the bird stood vigil over its dead partner.

"In humans, consciousness integrates the different senses. I have no doubt that the senses of birds are integrated as well, and that this integration creates feelings (of some sort) that allow birds to go about their daily lives, but whether they create consciousness as we understand it remains unknown. We have made a lot of progress in the last twenty years and the more we find out, the more likely it seems that birds do have feelings. But this is difficult research: difficult, but potentially very rewarding, for by gaining a better understanding of birds, whose lives are similar in many ways to our own – in terms of being predominantly visual, basically monogamous and highly social – we stand to gain a better understanding of ourselves."

Quote of the Day

If, as Montaigne famously said (by way of Cicero) “to study philosophy is to learn to die,” Mortality is a crash course in lived philosophy, without benefit of abstraction or metaphysical speculation.

Review of Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Inception Helmet Creates Alternative Reality

The Substitutional Reality (SR) system, developed by researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute's Laboratory for Adaptive Intelligence, is made of cheap, commercially available electronic components: a panoramic video camera used for recording, a computer for storing the recorded footage, and a head-mounted visual display that can switch seamlessly between the recorded footage and a live feed captured by a camera and microphone attached to it.

"In a dream, we naturally accept what is happening and hardly doubt its reality, however unrealistic it may seem on reflection." says Keisuke Suzuki, the lead author of a recent paper describing the SR system. "Our motivation is to explore the cognitive mechanisms underlying our strong conviction in reality. How can people trust what they perceive? Answering these questions requires an experimental platform which can present scenes that participants believe are completely real, but where we are still able to manipulate the contents."

- More Here

Wisdom Of The Week

I have more than once in my time woken up feeling like death. But nothing prepared me for the early morning in June when I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse. The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have been hollowed out and then refilled with slow-drying cement. I could faintly hear myself breathe but could not manage to inflate my lungs. My heart was beating either much too much or much too little. Any movement, however slight, required forethought and planning. It took strenuous effort for me to cross the room of my New York hotel and summon the emergency services. They arrived with great dispatch and behaved with immense courtesy and professionalism. I had the time to wonder why they needed so many boots and helmets and so much heavy backup equipment, but now that I view the scene in retrospect I see it as a very gentle and firm deportation, taking me from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady. Within a few hours, having had to do quite a lot of emergency work on my heart and my lungs, the physicians at this sad border post had shown me a few other postcards from the interior and told me that my immediate next stop would have to be with an oncologist. Some kind of shadow was throwing itself across the negatives.

The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of "acceptance," hasn't so far had much application to my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been "in denial" for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can't see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it's all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by the gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I'd worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read — if not indeed to write — the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. Of course my book hit the bestseller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just can't see any ironies here: Would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question "Why me?" the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

Excerpted from Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Quote of the Day

"We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention and curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals."

- Charles Darwin

Friday, September 7, 2012

Blogging the Human Genome - Sam Kean

Fascinating series on Human Genome from Slate - a must read!!

I’m blogging about the human genome this month in conjunction with my new book on genetics, The Violinist’s Thumb. This series will cover strange cancers, DNA palindromes and semordnilaps, interspecies hanky-panky, and the near extinction of humankind. But I thought I’d start off with something basic—with names, the first step in getting to know somebody.

We’ll be getting to know each human chromosome and its personality over the next few weeks, as I’ll extract a story from one or two chromosomes for each post. Chromosomes are discrete bundles of DNA inside the cell nucleus, and they house our genes. But despite the importance of chromosomes to our basic essence—they’re one fundamental thing all humans share—geneticists sure didn’t expend much energy thinking up names for them. They were in fact named with all the creativity of shoe sizes. Chromosome 1 is the longest, chromosome 2 the second-longest, chromosome 3 (spoiler alert!) the third-longest, and so on.

The only break in the monotony comes with chromosome 21. You’d think this would be the 21st-longest, but no—it’s the 22nd-longest, and the shortest chromosome overall, roughly 3 million DNA bases shorter than chromosome 22. Back when scientists started cataloging human chromosomes, they had much poorer microscopes, and a difference of even many millions wasn’t easy to measure. That’s because chromosomes in living cells usually look like unraveled skeins of yarn, not the neat, plump, paper-doll pairs we’re used to seeing on karyotypes (like the snazzy one below). During this era, scientists mistakenly measured chromosome 21 as longer, and by the time they realized this, it had already become infamous as the cause of Down syndrome. (Down syndrome occurs when someone has three copies of chromosome 21 instead of the normal two.) Rather than risk confusion, scientists let the misnomer “21” stick.

Quote of the Day

DIY drones (do-it-yourself unmanned aerial vehicles), MakerBot (a 3D printer kit), the Arduino sensor and control platform, parts supplier Sparkfun Electronics, Adafruit Industries, Shopbot, and a host of other small companies were suddenly registering millions of dollars in sales and were ready for an infusion of capital to take their homegrown businesses to the next level.

The lesson is clear: If you want to get out front as an investor or as an entrepreneur, treat joy and passion as your guide.

- Tim O’Reilly

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tragedy & Genius - Professor Deepak Malhotra

Prof. Malhotra delivers a enlightening speech to the 2012 graduating MBA students at Harvard Business School. He is also the author of I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else's Maze and Negotiation Genius: How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyon.

Circumstances and choice:
A Harvard MBA student has intangible assets and opportunity out of the gate, which far exceed 99.95% of the population. Circumstance has been kind to them, and to a great extent each of you as readers of this post. Our choice is to take our circumstances, make them work for us, and be happy throughout our lives. So many others have choices made for them. Largely we have choices to make. We should choose to be happy. When you have that choice and you don’t make it, it is among the great tragedies in life.

Quit – early and often:

You wouldn’t expect this from a Harvard business school professor, but this is precisely the advice he gave. Find out what feeds your soul. Don’t hesitate to quit because it’s bad to do so. Quit honorably, because it’s not for you and move on to what is. Tragedy is living a life where choices could’ve been made but were not.

Our purpose:

Doctors create better health. Teachers create a more learned society. Lawyers create justice. What do business leaders do? We create value. If we create more value than the money we take home, we are on the right track. If we take more money home than value we create, then we are unintentional thieves. It’s really that simple.


Conflict is most often created by the differing views of two people with good intent. Empathy is simply the ability to see the world through the other side’s eyes, and understand their view of the area of conflict. It matters most in dealing with others who seem to deserve it least.


The extent to which you solve problems will in large part be based on your ability to be humble. Humility and confidence are best friends.

Get your learn on:

Learning is easily the most inefficient aspect of our lives. We miss 99% of the learning opportunities that come our way. Be open to learning in any environment.

- More Here


Are We Alone?

- More Here

Quote of the Day

"Science" is just the process of looking at the world and thinking about the evidence in an effort to understand it. It's not a special form of knowledge, scientists don't use a special 'scientific method' - scientists just look and think about things. They may use special equipment and techniques, but in essence it's no different to what we all do every day. As such it makes no sense to talk about the 'limits of science' or 'what science can't tell us', unless by that we mean the limits of human knowledge itself, because science just is knowledge.

- What is Science

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Marginal Revolution University (MRUniversity)

Surprise, surprise !! Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok are starting a free online university and the first course will begin October 1st.

- More Here

What I've Been Reading

Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness by Epictetus (A new interpretation by Sharon Lebell. It's about time we all read this book, period.

The only prosperous life is the virtuous life:

Virtue is our aim and purpose. The virtue that leads to enduring happiness is not a quid pro quo goodness. Goodness in and itself is the practice and reward.

Goodness isn't ostentatious piety or showy good manners. It's a lifelong series of subtle readjustments of our character. We fine-tune our thoughts, words, and deeds in a progressively wholesome direction. The virtue inheres in our intentions and our deeds, not in results.

Why should we bother being good? To be good is to be happy; to be tranquil and worry-free. When you actively engage in gradually refining yourself, you refine from lazy ways of covering yourself or making excuses. Instead of feeling a persistent current of low-level shame, you move forward by using the creative possibilities of all this moment, your current situation. You begin to fully inhabit this moment, instead of seeking escape or wishing that what is going on were otherwise. You move through your life by thoroughly in it.

The virtuous life holds there as treasures: your own right action, your fidelity, honor, and decency.

Virtue is not a matter of degree, but an absolute.